by Sanjay Suri
(IPS) LONDON --
taken prisoner by coalition forces have been tortured, and about 2,000 are still detained without any outside contact, members of an Amnesty International team said here May 16.
Two Amnesty researchers, Said Bourmedouha and Judit Arenas, presented their findings after returning from Basra. The team showed media representatives footage of mass graves in the area and reported also on the large number of disappearances under the Saddam regime.
But while there have been several reports of killing and disappearances under the Saddam regime, this is among the first serious allegations of torture by the coalition forces.
"We know of cases of prisoners tortured at Basra airport," Bourmedouha said. "We also found evidence of people tortured in Nasiriyah before they were taken prisoner."
In one case, he said a Saudi national reported being tortured by electric shocks after he was taken prisoner by the coalition forces. Basra was captured by the British and has remained under control of British forces.
Bourmedouha said the Amnesty team had sought meetings with some of the estimated 2,000 Iraqis being held prisoner by the coalition forces. "The U.S. command turned down our request," Bourmedouha said.
The report from Basra is the first part of Amnesty's investigations of human rights abuses in Iraq. "We will be going north from here," Arenas said.
But the picture Amnesty presented from Basra shows a city where the occupying forces are still unable to keep law and order. "Everybody in Basra has just one message," Bourmedouha said. "They do not want food, they do not want water, they want security."
The Amnesty findings indicate that from the torture and tyranny practiced by the Saddam regime, people have faced more of the same either from the occupying forces or from the new Shia leaders.
"A new pattern of killings is emerging," Bourmedouha said. "Two shop owners were killed for selling alcohol. Two nightclub owners have been killed and one has been threatened; he does not go home anymore. One girl was kidnapped and raped and released only after ransom was paid. In Nasiriyah two girls were abducted; one was rescued but one was killed."
No one can step out at night into the sound of gunfire, he said. Women are afraid to go out without male escort, Bourmedouha said. "A lot of women talk of harassment from the Islamists," he said.
"We raised this matter with the British forces but they say they do not have enough forces," Bourmedouha said. Some people were arrested "but they were released because there was no prison to take them to," he said. The researchers noted, however, that the first police station had been opened in Basra about ten days ago, and now there are four.
The Amnesty researchers said they were still gathering more evidence to present to the coalition authorities. A full report will be published and presented to the U.S. and British authorities, they said.
The area around Basra is littered with ammunition and landmines, Arenas said. The ammunition is causing many deaths, particularly among children, she said. "These have simply been left lying around, and remain unguarded."
The Amnesty team reported they handed out questionnaires about missing people and that they had at least 500 forms come in over the past two weeks. The team said lists of the disappeared that had been prepared add up at present to about 17,000 names. But there is no attempt yet to trace these people.
The researchers said the coalition forces had failed to secure sites where mass graves had been found. "We saw the remains where the victims had been blindfolded, and with hands and feet tied," Arenas said. "We saw T-shirts with bullet holes, and hair and teeth were openly available," she said.
The findings were reported to the coalition forces. "But five days later when we returned the sites had still not been secured," she said. "We are asking for 24- hour guards here and for proper identification of the remains so that people can finally get some answers," Arenas said.
A correspondent pointed out that when the coalition forces were unable to protect the living, they were hardly likely to protect the remains of the dead.
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